Friday, 19 September 2014

Dust jacket: Off

Continuing a (very loose) series of posts looking at book design, this time at the actual hard-back covers of dust-jacketed books (rather than the actual dust-jackets themselves- that's for another day). Prior to deciding to focus on this aspect, I'd wanted to do a piece looking at book-spines, but came up short, despite owning almost 1000 comic-books (and I mean books, not floppy issues) now- most simply have the title and/or author in a particular font, with perhaps a small image -often a partial of the cover illustration-placed at the bottom; not really much innovation going on there. There's somewhat of a better effort made with jacketed hardback books covers- there isn't really a separate term for the cover underneath (that I know of), but there should be!

Ostensibly, you have the same options available -spot gloss/laminate/emboss/deboss/cloth binding (like these sweet Batman covers) etc.- that you would with any non-jacketed hardback book cover, but the tendency is to favour designs that are smaller, more subtle, minimal, and less expensive. Which is understandable on a level, because the jacket is rarely going to come off, but to my mind, the jacket acts a protector for the book and its 'real' cover, so an effort should be made with what it conceals. Below, I've put together various examples, showing books with and without their jackets, and looking as what makes both good and bad

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K Vaughan and Niko Henrichon: I like this- the brown earthiness of it, the simplicity of the deboss (only recently learned that emboss is raised, deboss is impressed). I like that the stylised 'Pride of Baghdad' font has been carried over, so you have that connection between the two covers, but moved to an upper central position, making room for the softer pride of lions below it, and bringing both elements together. A spot gloss/laminate, or foil wouldn't have fit here- too flashy, and not really in keeping with the subject at hand, so a blind deboss is a good choice, with the addition of the lions giving it a point of visual appeal.

The Gigantic Beard by Stephen Collins: Simple, but effective. I know it's only a tree, but the size: taking up almost all the A4 cover, and central positioning, along with the black glossy deboss make it just about intriguing enough to hold the attention. The tree mirrors the growth/life theme, but its also doesn't give anything away- a lot of jacketed hardbacks lost title and author credits when it comes to the actual cover (usually reserved to the spine), and the very precise oval shape adds another dimension of interest. This maybe loses some of it's effect in photographs- there's something more imposing in holding a large black hardback book in your hands.

The Book of Human Insects by Osamu Tezuka: This is probably one of my favourites, because the jacket design, while incredibly effective in its own right with those tall, bold red letters emblazoned  at an angle over the newsprint collage of images, is totally different to what's underneath, and someone's taken the opportunity to come up with a cover that's thematically unifying and incredibly striking in its own right. The expression of the horrified face (taken from the comic) is pretty great: the horrified eyes, the hands pushing the cheeks upwards, the gaping mouth, but isolating it to create a black and red repeat pattern is what makes it excellent. The use of the red, the only pop of colour- but strong enough that it's the only one that's needed, is what sets off both covers; imbuing them with connotation (the images on either cover, in association with the red bring to mind certain situations and ominous events) and visual strength.

Mouse Guard: the Black Axe by David Petersen: I think this is a poor cover- muddy and boring. I can see what it's going for: a sort of olde epic feel, with the axe being an object of significance placed emphatically in the middle, but the mint/yellow border is nondescript and doesn't do enough to frame, the pattern behind the axe is rather bland. The eye should be drawn to particular points of focus, but here they skim over the whole thing, not resting on any aspect. This is a good example of a hardback cover that could be vastly improved by either a metallic foil- imagine some gold or silver emboss picking out that border and pattern instead of the lighter green- much more arresting, whilst still retaining the mythic tome feel. Love the dust-jacket cover though; there's not much that David Petersen's illustrations can't improve.

Echoes by Rahsan Ekedal and Joshua Hale Fialkov: Transparency is effective when innovatively used, especially when it's interfaced with both the jacket and the cover, as here. The  only section that's transparent here is that one small central window which gives the reader a glimpse into something bloody and sinister. In removing the jacket you get the full horror of the bloody, creepy doll. Again the splash of a single, vivid colour breaks up the monotony of black/grey/white. It's also a rare case where the title is not on the dust-jacket but on the hard-cover, in keeping with the 'uncovering/unearthing' theme, although I'm not sold on the 'Introduction by Steve Niles' text running across the bottom, considering neither artists or writer are credited- it's out of place and the red lettering draws unwanted attention to it.

The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Craig P Russell: So you've got Craig P Russell illustrating a lovely glossy dust-jacket: job done there. but what about the cover underneath? What I appreciate here is that they've used the opportunity to pay a little tribute to Wilde, with a simple, familiar portrait, picked out elegantly in white, positioned centrally towards the top. The use of white is an unusual, unexpected choice, which I think works because the illustration is fine, and not large, so it's not as stark. The olive spine, whilst not the most inspiring colour, combines with the cheeriness of the yellow, providing a block of contrast. 

In the Kitchen with Alain Passard by Christophe Blain, and Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick: Three keywords here: simplicity, colour, and placement. Similar to the Wilde in  different ways: Blain's use a deep shade of red with a contrasting black deboss illustration and the repetition of the title (in a nice touch, a partial of the illustration can also be found on the spine). The Feynman book uses it's background sea of turquoise  and a white motif, which provides a sharp, refreshing contrast that again serves the fine lines better. The choice of illustration is a loose and dynamic, complete with sfx, and a lower right positioning. You'll note in all three covers, the placement of the image is never slap-bang central- you don't want a small picture drowning in an ocean of negative space. Keeping it in the middle, but moving it definitively towards the top or bottom is compositionally pleasing, with colour curtaining away from it. The Feynman's lower right is unusual but effective, because it's not too extreme and fits with the activity and motion of the character.

Batman: The Killing Joke by Brian Bolland and Alan Moore: I haven't included the original jacket cover for this, because we all know what that looks like, right- it's as iconic as they come. This is brilliant, and the kind of thing that sets print apart, for me; these sort of touches that can be felt and admired in physical form only. It's rare, too, that you see a full cover deboss illustration like this, particularly a coloured one, but look at how amazingly special this is. There is what looks like a purple metallic edition of this also- I believe the older editions are in green and the newer reprints in purple, but I may be wrong. Neon green and purple- the Joker's colours, and pretty arresting when used in this manner.

The illustration is, of course, from the famous joke-telling sequence, the panel in which Batman's clapping the Joker's shoulder, both of them laughing hysterically at the latter's joke; the rain lashing around them, the 'EEEEEE' of the sirens clashing with the 'HA HA HA HA's.' Colour deboss just looks gorgeous, here and it's actually rather liberally applied, in a way- the main blocks of green filling the Batman's and Joker's silhouettes, and then used to outlines the sfx, as a framing border, and for rain. The title at the bottom is there if you need it, but secondary, really. On the back cover -and now I'm going to eat my words and take back what I previously wrote about central positioning- is a playing card featuring the Joker and Batman, a cherry on the icing. The central positioning isn't as relevant here (although it still holds true- all you have to do is imagine this as a main front cover, and it's nowhere near effective)  because it's a back cover- it's impressive enough that the back has anything on it at all. A fantastic cover, and worth protecting.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Second Stickleback collection due for release in November

It's been pretty quiet in terms of comics news; perhaps we're approaching the autumnal lull (which I just made up, but is now totally real and a thing). I've been trying to figure out this post on the blog while writing for other outlets thing- I don't think it's really working, as you may have noticed, but I'm as stubborn as fuck and determined to see out the year at least, and as originally planned. One of the things I love about writing here is it allows me to interact with people, where on big, multi-authored sites it can be a bit like shouting into the ether. I guess the onus is one me to step up, or not give a shit. Can't figure out which one.

Which is to say not much has me sitting up and taking notice at the moment, but this has me excited: 2000AD/Rebellion will be publishing a second Stickleback collection, due for release on November 6th. Ian Edginton and D'Israeli made a return to the series in the 2000AD anthology earlier this in 2014, more than six years after the initial run. If you're not familiar, here's how Ian Edginton describes his titular character:   

'He's a villain. He's the Pope of crime who rules the underworld in a fantastical version of London that's the love-child of Charles Dickens and Mervyn Peake. He's called Stickleback because he was born with a second, splintered rib cage growing out of his back. He boasts that he came into the world a murderer, as he ripped his mother apart whilst she was giving birth to him.'

And yet there's something strangely beguiling and almost vulnerable about him and his ragtag group of deformed freaks, oddballs and semi-supernatural entities, despite everything. Set in the nineteenth century, Stickleback returned from the dead rather changed, and to find his position as head honcho of London's criminal fraternity in perilous question; namely in the form of a new, mysterious figure stationed on an airship high above the city. It's a mix of steampunk (and for those of you who have an aversion to the word- it's done properly, and liberally) and crime, and supernatural, all bought to curious life by the masterful D'Israeli. When I first started delving into 2000AD's output, it was the collections of Stickleback, Stone Island, Cradlegrave, and more that stuck with me. I missed reading this in issues, so very much looking forward to getting a copy.

Preview: Zac Gorman's readies for Halloween with Costume Quest

There's a veritable deluge of good comics out this September and October; so much so that I don't know whether to feel glad or frustrated that I don't have any money to spare right now. One of the ones I'd really liked to have got is the Costume Quest book by Zac Gorman- you might remember me writing about it when it was fist announced. It's an original graphic novelisation of an existing video-game, Costume Quest, which finds it's young protagonist and friends battling through candy-snatching beasts called Grubbins on Halloween, in order to travel to another dimension and retrieve their kidnapped twin (players can choose which twin to play as- Reynold or Wren). Gorman's comic book is being released in conjunction with the second installment of the game, and will turn that scenario on its head, instead following a 'good' young Grubbin called Klem, and narrating his adventures on that same Halloween. None of this really matters to me, because I don't game at all- all I know is I'm a big fan of Gorman's comics and art (looking forward to his Retrofit comic, which I think will be out before the end of the year), and I think this will be good- I mean, look at these pages below.


Monday, 15 September 2014

Comics is a flat circle... with bumps

A new pop-up book! It is such a lovely, lovely thing: a solid little red square that comes in a matching slipcase, Le Petit Nicolas was released in 2008 (I'm only 5 years late) and is based on  a series of French children's books, penned by RenĂ© Goscinny and illustrated by Jean-Jacques SempĂ© in the 60's. I can't remember where I saw some picture of this, and had to investigate further. Obviously I can't read it, having no French, but that's secondary, really- there's only about a line on each page anyway. It's beautifully done in largely black and white with only minimal pops of unobtrusive colour- some red here, some pink there. I like the use of clear plastic -particularly to subtly connect two aspects, e.g. a flying football and the leg it was kicked by, and the reflective mirror card and cut-outs. Nice perspectives too, with layered elements to provide depth, and raised platforms. It's just so charming. A little treasure. Have some photos:

Oily comics- Have to confess I haven't checked out Oily in a while, but I've been reading the awesome-ness that is Daryl Seitchik's Missy comics on Tumblr and realised that Oily had published print editions, so had to get my hands on some. The Missy strips switch between being seemingly loosely based on Seithcik's own experiences and those of the Missy persona as she grows up, navigating school and friendships. It's caustic and vulnerable and funny all at the same time, and most of the strips are freely available to red on Seitchik's Tumblr, which you should take immediate advantage of.. Charles Forsman's risographed Luv Sucker looked too appealing to pass up- seems to have an 80's aesthetic going on, along with that minimal fashion illustration line- looking forward to reading it.

I popped into OK on the way home from work, and Oliver -being so fucking good at his job as he is- showed me Cinebook's latest, Kenya, just as I was about to leave, so of course I had to buy it. It's written by Rodolphe and drawn by Leo (of Aldebaran, Antares, and Betelgeuse fame), who I like very much- he's great at drawing beasts and dinosaurs- but whose people all look the same: characters with neatly symmetrical features, very white teeth, distinguishable by hair and skin colour only. Kenya continues a dubious European tradition of containing copius amounts of racism and sexism explained away by being set decades back (1947)- aka When Things Were Different, so that's okay, right? 

This is the first in (I think) 4 volumes- maybe more- which sees a hunting expedition disappear without trace after they encounter an impossible creature. Naturally, the British, being the nosy meddling types they are, send an undercover schoolteacher to investigate further, and as she picks up the trail, she makes startling discoveries of her own. I wouldn't be into this, apart from, y'know, weird and wonderful beasts and dinosaurs being my Achilles heel. Some panels from Kenya below: nice splash page of the huge, furry, brown giraffe the writing expedition bumps into, an opulent castle in the desert complete with eccentric rich dude, another mysterious hairy, stumpy creature viewed from a plane- it's all lined up to keep me reading, dammit.

Nobrow have done such a gorgeous job with the printing/production of Roman Muradov's (In A Sense) Lost and Found- gorgeous cloth-covered spine with gold embossed pattern. I saw Michael Cho's Shoplifter in the flesh for the first time the other day, and the production job on the cover is pretty horrible: a stiff, shiny glossy paper that seems to be poorly glued around a thicker cardboard cover. Pantheon sent me an uncoloured advance proof a few months back, and I liked the book enough to want to buy a copy upon release, but that wrinkled, shiny paper put me right off. That sort of thing baffles me- Cho's done a beautiful job with the art and cover, it's his first graphic novel, I read somewhere it's Pantheon's first comic as a publisher, and that's the treatment it gets? 

Roman's book is the best thing I've read from him yet, and as mentioned, it's fantastic to see it given proper treatment: larger pages, lovely paper stock- all the better to show off his stunning art. Here's an excerpt from the review I wrote of it for Publisher's Weekly: 'F. Premise awakes one morning to find her innocence has gone missing, much to her father’s shame and also to the horror of strangers, as she discovers after fleeing her home. Innocence here is depicted as a literal, tangible thing that can be seen —or visually hidden from—and the story examines the manner in which society labels and judges this quality. As Premise pursues the thieves who stole her innocence to a mysterious lair, she becomes more and more ensnared by a strangely mundane world, one in which she must decide what it means be innocent and what that might be worth. The art that takes center stage in the metaphorical narrative, shapes and colors working together harmoniously to produce an utterly immersive beauty.'

Andy gave me this ages ago (my friends all have better taste than me), and only now that my feelings towards the Dredd-verse -namely Judge Anderson- are warmer, have I opened it to read. That cover is so good, especially the fluorescent pink and green which really gives it life, coupled with the image of Anderson trapped in that eyeless grill. This is the Judge Death story that contains the iconic 'Gaze into the fist of Dredd!' panel, which is cool, but the visual I liked much better was the double page spread of all four dark judges together, looking bad-ass and bat-shit, although it's illustrated by Brian Bolland and he's done a unarguable job on the whole thing. I'm still at that stage with Dredd, Anderson et al, that I'm reading all the widely considered excellent stories first, and this is another one of them.

Been in two minds about whether I was going to pick up Wild's End or not- it sounded like I might enjoy it, but also something that could go wrong- it's being pitched as Wind in the Willows meets War of the Worlds- but after seeing what a magnificent job Ian Culbard's done on the art here, I was swayed. Don't want to reveal too much, but a space ship crashes in a field, witnessed by a fox, which eventually leads to a small group of animals going to the alleged crash-site to investigate further. I'm trying to scale back my spending, but it's impressed enough that I've added it to my pull- it's only 6 issues, so hopefully the damage won't be too bad. Credit to Abnett and Culbard- they're created a strong first issue with a real sinister undertone to it, despite the bright colours and rotund cheerful amiability you see. 

Snapped a couple of pages I liked: the pink page on the left is near perfect; look at them colours- the pinks, green, purple, and the turquoise of the sfx. The way the pink window frame cuts through the green and purple, the outside looking in, drawing closer, giving a sense of crosshairs and entrapment. Love the blue and orange combination of the night sky and fox-fur on the right page, as well. All Culbard's animal characterisations here are superb- look at that pig, and the fox- they retain their inherent animal features, shapes, and associations, but on two legs. Excited about this now- hope it lives up to he standard it's set.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Upcoming in book announcements: The Divine, and Jim Rugg's Notebook Drawings 2

A couple of exciting book announcements to share: first up, a book I've been seeing Darguad editor Thomas Ragon tweet about for a while, which looks to have been picked up by First Second: The Divine. Written by Israeli writer/filmmaker Boaz Lavie, it will be illustrated by the immensely talented Asaf and Tomer Hanuka. The Hanuka twins are individually acclaimed artists as both illustrators and cartoonists; Tomer is perhaps now better known for his illustration work- book covers, posters etc., for clients such as Time, The New Yorker, Universal, rolling Stone, and so forth, while Asaf has also worked  with The New York Times, The Forbes, Newsweek, but is best know for his ongoing quasi-biographical webcomic, The Realist. the brothers previously collaborated on the award-nominated Bipolar.

The Divine will be concurrently released in French by Darguad next year, and follows the story of former military man Mike, whose humdrum civilian life is interrupted by his army friend Jason, who persuades him to take on a job which he assures him is easy money:  a covert, lucrative contract in an obscure, cicil-war ridden, South-Asian country called Quanlom. The job turns out be far from simple, however, as it turns oyut the civil war is being led by two 10-year old twins with supernatural powers. Heidi MacDonald's got a blurb over at The Beat, which describes it as 'a fast-paced, brutal, and breathlessly beautiful portrait of a world where ancient powers vie with modern warfare and nobody escapes unscathed.' The Hanuka's can draw the living hell out of anything, so I imagine a lot of people- myself included- will be all over this one.

In, other news, AdHouse Books have announced a second volume of Jim Rugg's Notebook Drawings, covering 2012-2014. The first volume was an exhibition catalogue released as part of the iam8bit art show, Notebook Nerd. This collection features a selection of the incredible ballpoint drawings Rugg has built a reputation for, featuring fan art, movies, pinups, cars, comics, animals, and more. The 40-page, spiral-bound book will be produced as a special, limited edition run of 300 copies and retail at $35.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

James Stokoe's new Orc Stain short story

A quick PSA: James Stokoe's put up a new 6-page Orc Stain short story for you to read, over at his website, titled Stork Stain. As you may be able to guess, it details, documentary-style, how orcs come into being, complete with cutaway penis diagrams. If you're an Orc Stain fan waiting for new material, I imagine this will be very welcome- I believe it was originally intended to be published in the back of issue #8, but there was no room (I mean, I believe this because it's what Stokoe told me). I really love the white, clean backgrounds- really lets the art breathe and shine. But yeah, if your day was missing dicks- there you go; never say I didn't do anything for you.

Comics Shelfie: Michael DeForge

It's that time again, as we go on a wander around another comic creator/authors/whatever's the acceptable term nowadays bookshelves and tie ourselves into knots of envy as we gaze upon other people's collections. Today it's the turn of the man who's pretty much trademarked the 'finest cartoonist of his generation' (I'm getting really good with these introductions, eh) tag for the past few years, Michael DeForge. I've not written about DeForge yet, but I think one of the most impressive things about his work is how it's very distinct and individual and yet very fully formed and realised, so you get the freshness, the feel of something new, but in a complete, whole way. As well as being ridiculously good, he's also impressively prolific with a number of releases this year: Ant Colony, A Body Beneath, and most recently, the latest and sixth installment in his acclaimed Lose series.

Today, however, Michael's here to talk about his comics/book collection, and introduce the world to a new system of storage: milk crates.

'Okay, so I tried to only include photographs of the shelves that have comics on them, but there was a bit of spillover. I store most of my books in milk crates.

During my last move, I was leaving an apartment that was only a twenty minute walk away from my new apartment, so I had the bright idea to do it all myself and without a car (I don't know how to drive.) I rigged up a dolly so that I was able to stack about twelve crates on it, held together with duct tape and string. I took trips back and forth between places, moving everything by hand over the course of a week. I was overly ambitious about how much the dolly could balance at a time, and the on one of the two dozen trips I took, the whole thing came apart in the middle of traffic. I lost a full box of Richard Corben issues to the road, plus some other stuff. An elderly Portuguese-speaking woman saw me trying to gather all my books while stopped cars honked at me. She very generously came out to help me, until she picked up a stray Shintaro Kago comic, examined the cover, and silently turned around and walked back inside of her house.

Anyway, I'll go through "stack by stack." This first one has some miscellaneous visual reference (books and clippings), some illustration books, and the small portion of my children's book collection that I have left (I cut 2/3rds of it out during the aforementioned move.)

An example of the sort of reference materials I keep, and how I group them. These were all purchased for a comics project I was working on last year that I've since abandoned, but the "Orange Roofs, Golden Arches" and "White Towers" books are now part of a small collection of material I'm amassing on fast food architecture.